If you are interested in holding a home funeral for a loved one who has died, you’ll need to be aware of the laws that apply. Here is an overview of the rules that govern home funerals in Arkansas.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Arkansas does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in the final arrangements. For example, Arkansas Code § 20-18-601(b) allows “the funeral director or person acting as the funeral director” to file the death certificate. And Arkansas Code § 20-17-303 allows a coroner to deliver a body to the relatives or friends of the deceased person for burial.
Arkansas law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to an individual named by the deceased person in a written declaration made before death, and after that to family members in an established order.
To learn the rules and the exact order of priority, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Arkansas.
Embalming is rarely required. Arkansas law requires a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours, unless cremation is planned. For cremation, the allowed waiting period is 48 hours. (Arkansas Health Department Regulations § 8.1.) Additionally, a body must be embalmed if it is to be transported by common carrier, such as an airplane or train. If embalming is not possible, the body may be shipped "only after enclosure in an air-tight container." (Arkansas Health Department Vital Records Regulations § 8.0(c).)
Refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. There are resources available to help you learn to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation. The website of the National Home Funeral Alliance is a good place to start.
If the person died of a contagious disease, you should consult a doctor.
If you will not be using a funeral director, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Arkansas law requires you to file the death certificate with the local or state vital records office within ten days of the death. (Arkansas Code § 20-18-601.)
The deceased person’s doctor, a medical examiner, or another approved medical provider must complete the medical certification portion of the death certificate within two business days. (Arkansas Code § 20-18-601.) The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death.
Arkansas is instituting an electronic system for registering deaths. Once this system is in place, you will go to the local registrar or health department to initiate the death certificate process. For help obtaining or filing a death certificate, contact the Arkansas Vital Records Office.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out other tasks after the death, such as arranging for the disposition of the body and transferring the deceased person’s property to inheritors. You may be able to file the death certificate with the local registrar and get certified copies on the same day. If not, you will have to make a return trip to pick up the copies. Be prepared to pay a small fee for each copy.
Unlike many other states, you do not need a special permit to move a body within the state of Arkansas. You do, however, need permission from a doctor, state medical examiner, or county coroner if you want to bring a body home from the place of death to prepare it for final disposition. (See Arkansas Code § 20-18-604.)
In Arkansas, a body must be buried in an established cemetery. (Arkansas Code § 20-17-902.) However, you may be permitted to establish a family graveyard if you live in a rural area. Contact the local health department and check local zoning laws before you proceed.
You must register a family graveyard with the county clerk before holding a burial. (See Arkansas Code § 20-17-901, requiring all cemeteries to be registered with the county.)
Unfortunately, in Arkansas, crematories may not enter into contracts with members of the public. (See Arkansas Funeral Board Rule IV(4).) This means you will have to go through a funeral director to arrange cremation.
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Arkansas.
Even the most staunch home funeral advocates know that learning to care for one’s own dead can be difficult, especially during a time of grief. If you need help, there are people available to coach you through this process. You can find local guides, consultants, and other resources by visiting the website of the National Home Funeral Alliance. The book Final Rights, by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson, also offers extensive information on the subject.
For more information about final arrangements and documenting your final wishes in advance, see Nolo’s section on Getting Your Affairs in Order.